Saturday, January 3, 2009

Utah makes a statement for West Coast football

Friday was a beautiful day for fans of West Coast football, myself included. I have no special connection to Utah. I went to Oregon. I don’t even know what a Ute is. But I love the fact that the Utes beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl.

Maybe for at least a day or so we can stop hearing about the greatness of the Southeastern Conference, about how much bigger and faster and better their athletes and teams are, especially compared to those “soft” West Coast teams not named USC.

Alabama spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the country. But before it knew what hit it Friday night, Alabama was down 21-0 to the undefeated Utes. Utah quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama.

How could these superhumans from the SEC lose to a team from Utah, especially in what was basically a home game for them in New Orleans at the Superdome?

Maybe Alabama coach Nick Saban had a bad hair day. Maybe the mighty Crimson Tide overlooked the Utes. Granted, Alabama was without suspended All-America left tackle Andre Smith. But isn’t an elite team from the great SEC supposed to be three or four deep at every position? And besides, Smith doesn’t play both ways, so he wouldn’t have helped Alabama’s defense.

From what I saw, Alabama couldn’t handle the Utes’ passing game or its pass rush. Utah blitzed and stunted and basically made life hell for Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. Oh, those tricky Utes. But Utah also bottled up Alabama’s power running attack, holding Glen Coffee to 36 yards on 13 carries and Mark Ingram to 26 yards on eight carries.

I know the SEC is a great football conference. But it’s not the only conference. They play a little football west of the Rocky Mountains, too. The Pac-10, which admittedly had a down year, went 5-0 in its bowl games. USC beat Penn State, Oregon beat Oklahoma State, Oregon State beat Pittsburgh, Cal beat Miami and Arizona beat BYU.

Then Utah, of the we-get-no-respect Mountain West Conference, made an even bigger statement for West Coast football as it served a slice of humble pie to Alabama and the SEC.

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